Making the Connection: Movement & Second Language Learning

ABC English & Me - Teaching English to Children through Music

ABC English & Me - Teaching English to Children through MusicWant a child to speak more than one language fluently? Start early! Research shows that when children learn another language at a young age the more likely they are to understand it and speak like a native speaker. It’s never too early to begin learning another language. In fact, evidence indicates that babies have the ability to learn all the languages of the world but self-select to their native language as early as 9 months.

Our EFL Program, ABC English & Me, adopts the “Natural Approach” to support English language learning for very young learners. We emphasize language “acquisition” as opposed to language “processing.” In other words, children learn to speak and think in the second or foreign language.

Learning Another Language through Movement

Movement or Total Physical Control (TPR) coordinates meaning to physical movement. Language acquisition indicates that TPR allows children to internalize meaning and greatly influences fluency.

TPR can be closely related to drama and pretend play. Using drama techniques enhance the quality of TPR activities and prepare children for gross motor movement activities. Here are a three ways we use TPR in our EFL program.

3 Ideas for Using TPR with English Language Learners

  1. Freeze games can be done with children as young as 2. In addition to developing inhibitory control, freeze games promote improvisation skills and children’s ability to act spontaneously especially as they get older.

preschoolerFreeze Game Activity for the Classroom: Have the children spread around the room. Tell them that they can run around the room freely once you clap your hands, but when you shout, “Freeze,” they must stop in their current position. To begin, let the children run around for 30 seconds and then shout “Freeze!” Make sure children hold the position for at least 10-15 seconds before you let them run around again. When focusing on language learning, use simple linguistic phrases to describe what you see: “Andrea is standing up like a tree”or “Olivia is a stone.” Repeat several times.

  1. Miming is great to explore and develop physical skills (movement, actions, posture, gesture, facial expression, and body language). Create and perform mime sequences to develop imaginative skills and the TPR exploration of nouns.

Mime Activity for the Classroom: Use a theme like animals or Christmas presents. Ask children to draw a picture of a noun. Then, take turns miming their words while the rest of the children try to guess the answer.

  1. Fingerplays are ideal for younger children to develop body awareness through identification and labelling of the body parts as well as developing fine motor movement through muscular coordination. As children get older, fingerplays sharpen memory and linguistic skills and is the perfect TPR activity to perform with a lack of space for those big gross motor movements.

We like this fun twist on a classic fingerplay:

The games identified above develop physical movement but also the 4-Cs: confidence, communication, co-ordination and concentration, which are necessary for any child acquiring a new language!

Learn more about using movement and TPR with English Language Learners.

Jump for joy: Busy bodies and second language learning

This video demonstrates the Total Physical Response approach to second language learning and shows a parent and child at home using one of the recorded activities from ABC English & Me.

It all started with movement. When James Asher, a professor of psychology at San Jose State University in California, started asking why young children were dropping out of school, he found a link to second language acquisition:

“The most difficult learning task for both children and adults may be the attempt to acquire a second language in school. A number of studies have shown that few students – often less than 5% who start in a second language – continue to proficiency. This lack of success is striking when compared to the language achievement of most six-year-olds, who without schooling have mastered all the essential parts of the individual’s native language.”

Searching for a solution, Asher started looking at why some young learners developed a second language skill and why others didn’t. The link was movement. What he found is that children who could hear a movement word, and demonstrate comprehension of that movement word by doing it – such as jump, dance, or run – were better able to learn and retain the new information over a period of time.

He developed a method for second language learning centered on movement and wrote a book about it, Learning Another Language Through Actions: The Complete Teacher’s Guidebook.

Asher called this physical approach to teaching a second language: total physical response or TPR.

In study after study for 25 years, laboratory experiments and classroom observations have demonstrated results that were extremely positive. When the instructor skillfully uses the target language to direct the student’s behavior, understanding of the utterance is transparent, often in only one exposure. Also, the understanding is achieved without stress and then retained for weeks, months, and even years. Language-body communications is a fascinating and powerful principle of learning. It seems to be a universal principle that holds true for language including sign language for the deaf. It seems to hold true for an age group that has been studied from children to senior citizens.

This approach is an essential part of the ABC English & Me program. And we were so delighted to watch a parent and child share the joy of learning – and moving – at home.

It’s the kind of learning that makes you jump for joy.

Would you like to know more about the research-based approach of ABC English & Me? Click here for more information. We’d love to show you how it works.